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Department of the Air Force hosts Hispanic Heritage Month conference celebrating Hispanic and Latino leaders

  • Published
  • Secretary of the Air Force Office of Diversity and Inclusion

WASHINGTON (AFNS)-- The Department of the Air Force's Hispanic Empowerment and Action Team hosted its annual Hispanic Heritage Month conference Oct. 13 at the Inter-American Defense College in Washington, D.C.

This year’s theme, “Amplifying the Voices and Journeys of Hispanic and Latino Leaders across our Armed Forces,” aimed to empower Airmen and Guardians and showcased the spectrum of talent, experience and dedication within the DAF's ranks.

From active duty enlisted to officer, civilian to senior executive service, and Guard to Reserve, the event drew more than 160 members from across the DAF and even saw participation from members of sister services.

The conference underscored key HEAT messages — including the opportunity for success within the DAF, the possibility for everyone to reach their highest potential, and an open acknowledgment of existing challenges — all while emphasizing the resilience of the DAF Hispanic and Latino community and their collective drive to surpass any challenges.

“While it's true that the U.S. Air Force and Space Force have been immensely successful, that very success has inadvertently led many in the Hispanic and Latino community to perceive a career with the DAF as out of reach,” said Col. Angel Santiago, HEAT co-lead. “It's essential to shatter such misconceptions. A fulfilling career in the DAF isn't just attainable, it's waiting for those who seek it. I urge our Hispanic and Latino Airmen and Guardians to continue to explore the myriad of opportunities that are available and embark on a journey defined by renewed purpose and vision.”

The conference also highlighted the achievements and initiatives of the HEAT. The team turned over all HEAT co-leads and over 80% of their line-of-effort leads by June 2023, and networking efforts saw the HEAT co-leads meet with national institutions and organizations such as Excelencia in Education, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, and the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Members also participated in events like the League of United American Citizens annual conference and briefed Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall at the Air and Space Forces Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference.

Santiago said the HEAT's outreach has been exemplary, and Facebook engagement showed significant growth, with a notable increase in membership and chapters being established across the DAF.

The HEAT’s FY 24 plans include the development of standard operating procedures, a transition plan, and the establishment of a HEAT website, among other objectives. The team’s emphasis is on fostering community and ensuring that Hispanic and Latino voices are represented, and their concerns addressed.

Santiago said overcoming language barriers is one of the group’s major initiatives. Efforts are in place to provide time extensions for English as a second Language test-takers, establish English language training solutions, and foster collaboration with the Pacific Islander/Asian American Community Team on related topics.

Furthermore, the HEAT has been fervently working on education, awareness and recruitment. Successful recruiting events were held in diverse regions such as Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C. and New York. In tandem with the Recruiting Squadron and Squadron Officer School, plans are afoot to roll out a targeted recruitment program.

Lastly, HEAT has placed great emphasis on mentorship, professional development and retention, including initiatives to amend the race and ethnicity identification process and expand mentorship opportunities for Reserve Officer Training Corps and U.S. Air Force Academy cadets.

This year's conference not only celebrated the rich heritage and contributions of Hispanic and Latino members, but also laid down a robust roadmap for the future, promising more inclusivity, empowerment and representation.

Marianne Malizia, SAF Diversity and Inclusion director, spoke at the event and emphasized the group’s broader vision.

“Today’s conference is more than just a celebration of heritage,” she said. “It’s a testament to the limitless potential of our Hispanic and Latino members. In the Department of the Air Force, we're not just looking at today, but setting the stage for a more inclusive and brighter tomorrow. I see a future where every voice and all backgrounds contribute uniquely to our mission. Let this event remind us all: Together, we fly higher."